Branding and Innovation in Children’s Eyewear

The world’s population hit a high of seven billion in 2012, a quarter of which comprises babies, toddlers and teens. Despite a declining birth rate over the years, this has been a steady and lucrative market for various industries. Euromonitor International takes a look at what eyewear companies are doing to target this junior market.

Tying up with toy brands

What better way to attract children than to tie up with popular cartoon characters such as Lightning McQueen from Cars, Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and Mickey Mouse. For many years, merchandising has generated billions of dollars for The Walt Disney Co and the spectacles and sunglasses categories are no stranger to this concept, with a vast number of licensing agreements with fashion and luxury brands such as Armani, Coach, Dior and Gucci.

In 2010, Essilor acquired FGX International (FGXI) and took its maiden step into spectacle frames and sunglasses, categories in which it was previously absent. In 2011, FGXI acquired Stylemark in the US. Stylemark boasts a range of spectacle frames and sunglasses and, interestingly, a line of premium children’s sunglasses with familiar brand names such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Barbie, Seventeen and Hasbro.

Tiny Tinseltown endorsement

Parents who are fashion and style-conscious often look to the offspring of celebrities for a peek into the latest high fashion for toddlers. The children of celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Jennifer Garner and Britney Spears are among those who have been seen in mini versions of brands such as Gucci or Ray-Ban, costing over £125 each. Products worn by these celebrity offspring tend to see sales soar immediately afterwards, thus it is no wonder fashion and eyewear brands adore these unofficial models and are known to send free merchandise for them to sample.

Not one size fits all

Most products for children are typically a scaled down duplicate of the adult version, with minor tweaks to suit their junior audiences. More recently, eyewear companies have been adopting a more dedicated approach towards their lines of children’s products. London eyewear company Zoobug Ltd produces sunwear and frames for children up to 12 years old. Its eyewear products come in an array of colours, offer 100% UV protection, smaller nose bridges, Asian fittings, shatterproof lenses and detachable headbands for babies.

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Children modelling Zoobug eyewear – courtesy of Zoobug Ltd

Dr Julie Diem Le, Director of Zoobug Ltd, says “Our brand has grown rapidly as we combine both the eye care needs and safety issues required by children with fashionable, cool designs”. She adds, “In the last two years we have seen a dramatic increase in online sales of sunglasses as parents are becoming more aware about the dangers of UV and they would like their children to wear protection that is similar to that offered by adult sunglasses”. The brand has won several awards, including the Silmo award in both 2008 and 2009, and was the official licensee for the 2012 London Olympics.

Another such company is Babiators, which was named ‘Best Company of 2012’ by Earnshaw’s magazine. Babiators manufactures and sells a range of sunglasses made for babies and young children. Apart from the expected benefits such as UV protection, durability and flexibility, Babiators also claims that the materials used in the manufacture of its sunglasses are safe for young audiences. Its products offer impact and shatter-resistant lenses and are tested for BPA, phthalates, lead and other metals so as to ensure non-toxicity in case the products reach young mouths.

While larger eyewear companies are choosing to opt for big names and well-known celebrity children, emerging and niche eyewear companies are focusing on innovations for their young audience and expanding their distribution to online options and hospitals. Regardless of the approach, with increasing affluence and busy lifestyles, parents are increasingly willing to spend on their children, perhaps also to compensate for the lack of quality time spent with them. Although this is not a new area in eyewear, it is an area which is yet to be fully exploited by existing players. With stronger brand positioning and enhanced education with regard to children’s eye protection, this is a potentially huge area for expansion within the eyewear industry.